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12 January 2011
The CAP Code and the corporate web site: will your site content come under new ASA rules?
Senior Consultant | Read all Martina's posts
The aim of the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) CAP Code is to maintain consumer confidence by ensuring that marketing communications are ‘legal, decent, honest and truthful’.
The ASA is now extending the Code’s remit to address online communications (it already covers online advertising and paid-for listings). From 1 March 2011, it will also be regulating the marketing communications that appear on companies’ own web sites and in their social media channels (the ‘non-paid-for space online that is under their control’, as the announcement has it).
What does all this mean for online corporate communications?
The key question is: what exactly will be coming under the extended Code?
The ASA defines marketing communications as those whose primary purpose is to sell something (and that’s even if there isn’t an opportunity to actually buy something on the site).
From the examples the ASA’s been giving, that does seem to rule out most of the content that’s likely to appear on the corporate site and in corporate social media channels – though you could argue that one of the ultimate aims of the corporate site is to ‘sell’ the company.
To be more explicit, types of content that are not currently regulated by the CAP Code offline won’t be online either. Press releases and public relations material, corporate reports and ‘editorial content’ all fall into this category.
The revised Code is also adding two new exempt categories: investor relations material and heritage advertising (the latter, when used in an appropriate context – to illustrate a company history, for example).
And user-generated content is not covered by the Code either except in certain situations – for example, if it is effectively being used as a testimonial. Again, the context is important.
What happens next?
At the moment, it does look that the Code is not likely to apply to what we might think of as traditional corporate web site content – this content isn’t ‘directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods, services, opportunities and gifts’. But there may be a few grey areas which are likely to be clarified as we see how things work out in practice.
In the long term, who knows whether these definitions might change? Corporate communications audiences may be widening; the roles of the corporate site and corporate social media channels may be becoming more flexible. The Code remains something of which we should be aware.
To answer any questions organisations may have – and to get those who will definitely be affected from March 2011 up to speed – the ASA is running a number of initiatives, including training sessions and a free fast turnaround CopyAdvice service. You can find out more on this dedicated site: www.copyadvice.org.uk
And although it seems like there’s not too much here for corporate communicators to be concerned about, if the ASA does uphold a complaint against a company’s online content, it does have a pretty strong set of punishments in its arsenal. These include blocking paid-for company ads that link to an offending page and the ASA’s own paid-for ads, naming and shaming offenders.
However, let’s not forget, this isn’t about making companies jump through hoops to gain the ASA’s approval. It’s about legal, decent, honest and truthful communication. Regardless of what comes under the CAP Code’s remit, you’d certainly hope that, in their corporate communications, the vast majority of companies should have nothing to fear.
Any statements made in these blog posts are the views of the blogger and do not necessarily represent the views of The Group.